Every time I tell my sister, a University of San Francisco alum, that I'm about to watch a Dons women's basketball game she just laughs and offers a response similar to what she said last night when she realized I was watching her alma mater on BYU TV.
Barely stopping what she was doing to check the score, she asked with routine pessimism, "How much are they losing by?"
After realizing that her pessimism was unwarranted she scrambled to find a way to explain how USF could possibly be on their way to a 71-64 upset.
"They're playing BYU?," she said, surely not knowing they were ranked #23 in the country. "Are they just having a bad day?"
Well, yes and no.
Key stat: USF defense holds BYU to season-low shooting performance
Just looking at the boxscore, it's obvious that BYU's season-low 10% 3-point shooting had something to do with this loss. But the shooting woes didn't end there either.
BYU also shot 39.28% from inside the arc, giving them a season-low 31.6% from the field. And as painful as it was to watch them throw up brick after brick from the 3-point line, their performance inside the arc - particularly in the paint - was even worse.
Despite absolutely dominating the rebounding battle - retrieving 33.3% of all those missed shots they threw up - they struggled to put in shots right around the basket that they normally make. At no time was that more significant than the final minutes of the game when they seemed to be wearing down USF in the paint and getting themselves a number of second chance shots. Yet they just couldn't seem to convert on any of their opportunities.
Although part of that is just a bad night for one of the nation's most efficient offenses, a larger part was USF's outstanding play defensively.
The majority of the threes BYU took were contested by a USF defender flying at them. Help side rotations seemed perfectly timed. Most importantly, USF collapsed on any post player that touched the ball to turn normally high percentage layups into difficult contested short jumpers. And it was USF's defense in the post that might have been most impressive.
BYU did finish with a 34 to 20 advantage in points in the paint, but consider that they held them to 12 in the second half - six of those points were second chance points and the other six came from guards. BYU was simply not able to establish any consistent post offense in the second half, which is impressive considering that they had a height advantage and guards who recognized opportunities to get the ball inside as well as anyone in the country. Having to resort to taking mid-range jumpers or scrap for second-chance points, shot only 27.3% from the field in the second half.
That was all about USF's defensive rotations and ability to execute a game plan. And if you've watched the Dons at all this year, the notion that they would beat a ranked team with an offense like BYU's by just completely stopping them from scoring on post-ups would have sounded somewhat far-fetched.
USF statistical MVP: Mel Khlok records a season-high 7 assists, game-high 4 steals
In addition to USF's strong defensive performance in the post, Mel Khlok's defensive intensity on the perimeter helped to further disrupt the BYU offense.
While turnovers were (somewhat surprisingly) not a defining feature of this upset, Khlok did pick 2 of her 4 steals from guards as well as 2 against post players. But what doesn't show up in the boxscore is how well she and the entire perimeter rotation got out to challenge shots. It's been something they've done well throughout the season, but precision execution teams (Gonzaga, San Diego) have worn them down and dynamic scorers (Loyola Marymount's Alex Cowling) have eventually overwhelmed them. Last night was something special to witness in that it finally seemed to come together.
But Khlok had an outstanding floor game on both ends of the court, despite shooting only 4-for-12 last night.
She's been up and down as a scorer all season: after scoring a career-high 32 points in a dramatic win against St. Mary's, the junior failed to score 32 total in the following five games and was almost a non-factor. But last night, she channeled her aggression into setting up others.
She picked up her assists by making the right pass rather than the spectacular pass, in part using her ability to drive to set up shooters - Khlok assisted on 4 of USF's 8 threes last night. That kind of passing performance is something that USF hasn't gotten consistently throughout the season, which sometimes causes them to rely heavily on 1-on-1 plays and get bogged down offensively. Khlok's energy on both ends helped avoid that.
Key player: Freshman Jamie Katuna gives USF a scoring boost off the bench
But it was the energy that USF got from their bench that might have been the biggest story offensively.
No play sums that up better than freshman Jamie Katuna coming in during the first half and driving into the lane with 6'6" shot blocker Jennifer Hamson in her way. While less composed players might have fled that situation, Katuna managed to freeze Hamson and get a shot off right in her face.
Although her numbers don't necessarily reflect it, Katuna has gotten increasingly comfortable as a scorer over the course of her freshman season to the point where she can sometimes look absolutely fearless yet not reckless which is important - Katuna is proving to be a rather efficient scorer as she has adjusted to the speed of the college game and learned how to pick her spots. You can't really teach that and it's starting to pay dividends.
Cougars statistical MVP: Haley Steed falls short of willing her team to victory
Still, the best player on the floor for either team last night was arguably BYU point guard Haley Steed, who came up with a number of big plays down the stretch in an attempt to will her team to a comeback win.
She accounted for 43.60% of the Cougars' total statistical production, which is impressive even in the midst of a scoring drought among her teammates.
Like any good point guard with a total command over the action on the floor, it can be hard to put a finger on what exactly she did well and thus easy to overlook. Her efficiency as a distributor isn't a bad place to start: 6 assists is nothing for her - it's one below her conference-leading average. But what made her impressive last night is that she recognized that her team needed scoring and she was able to find scoring opportunities for herself within the flow of the offense.
As a 33.3% shooter on the season a 4-for-8 shooting performance - along with 5-for-5 from the free throw line - is noteworthy. But it simply wasn't enough to carry her cold-shooting teammates to a win that people who watch the WCC closely probably took for granted.
Due to proximity (USF) and television coverage (BYU TV), these two are the WCC teams that I've seen most often this season and the outcome was somewhat shocking - I have neither seen anyone shut down BYU's offense like that nor seen USF play so well on both ends of the court for the entirety of a game. It was impressive for USF, but BYU freshman guard Lexi Eaton said after the game that they "just didn't seem to have the energy" last night and you have to wonder if this was a game they expected to win with ease before taking on the San Diego Toreros on Saturday.